The Cretan Diet

Crete

Several studies have shown the Cretan Diet to be one of the healthiest in the world, involving lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, fresh fish, and moderate amounts of wine.

Greek saladGreek Salad

The Cretan Diet is the healthiest in the world. Several studies have shown this, and fortunately the diet is not just healthy but also very tasty. It blends pulses, olive oil, fresh fruit and vegetables, lots of fresh fish… and the robust but health-giving red wine too.

In addition, the diet incorporates most of the other requisites for healthy eating, including nuts, spices, garlic, bread, cheese and meat. Some people refuse some foods such as meat and cheese, believing them to be unhealthy, but the Cretan Diet shows that a moderate amount of all these items is definitely good for the body.

The Cretan Diet

Research begun in 1956 by the innovative American nutritionist Dr Ancel Keys compared diets, diseases and death rates in seven countries across the world, including Japan, Italy and the USA. Greek studies were undertaken in Corfu and Crete. Crete had by far the lowest mortality rates for heart diseases and cancer. In Finland, for example, there were 972 such deaths per 100,000 people in 1986, when the studies were still continuing. The figure for Crete was just 38 deaths, the lowest in the world. Similarly Crete had the lowest rate of deaths from other causes, and lowest incidence of disease. So impressed was Dr Keys by the findings, that he began to follow the Cretan Diet himself… and lived to be 100!

Vegetables

Part of the secret is the quantity of fresh vegetables eaten. Cretans consume three times as many vegetables as other Europeans. These are rich in vitamins and fatty acids, which help fight off heart disease. Most are also organically grown in an ideal climate: mild winters and moderate temperatures in early summer.

Oranges on Crete

Fruit

Cretans are also said to eat four times as much fruit as the average southern European, and six times as much as their northern European counterparts. Most notable among the fruits is the orange, which grows in such profusion on the island, even in winter, that sometimes people cannot even give away the crop of oranges on their land. These provide numerous vitamins in the diet, notably vitamin C. Grapes are eaten as well as turned into wine, grape skins having antioxidant elements which are believed to offer protection against cancer.

Fresh fish for sale on Crete

Fish

Although it is a large island, its long, thin shape means that nowhere is so far from the sea that fresh fish cannot be obtained. There are also trout farms in the interior. As well as being full of vitamins, fish oils are known to help protect against heart disease.

Lyon-Hearted

In a further study of heart patients in Lyon, French doctors divided their patients into two groups. One group was given a conventional low fat/low cholesterol diet, as recommended by the US Society of Cardiology for sufferers from heart disease. The second group was put on the Cretan Diet. The results were astonishing. Mortality rates in the second group were 75% lower than the first group after two years.

Olive-oil bottles on Crete

Olive Oil

Crete produces especially good-quality olive oil. Olive oil reduces the amount of unhealthy LDL cholesterol in the blood stream, which can lead to clogged arteries, but increases the amount of HDL cholesterol, which helps to break down these fatty deposits. Next time you have a Greek salad, there is no need to refuse the olive oil in the belief that it is bad for you. Far better to cut down on dairy products, for example eating your bread without butter, as the Cretans do, and only having a modest amount of cheese in the diet.

See also our page about visiting an olive oil factory.

Wine

Moderate amounts of wine, especially red wine, are also believed to be generally good for health. Red wine has anti-oxidants which help fight several diseases, and studies have shown that people who drink a moderate amount of wine (roughly one glass per day for women and two for men) live far longer than either tee-totallers or heavy drinkers. 

See some of our other Crete pages...

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  • Eco-Tourism Accommodation on Crete

    The Dalabelos Estate offers luxury eco-tourism accommodation on Crete in the hills near Rethymnon with its own farm, vineyard and olive groves.

  • What Is Metaxa?

    What is Metaxa? Metaxa is an amber Greek spirit combining brandy made by distilling wine, sweet wine from Samos and a secret recipe of Mediterranean botanicals.

  • Greek Alcoholic Drinks

    Greek alcoholic drinks include distinctly Greek drinks such as ouzo, Metaxa, retsina, raki, tsikoudia and tsipouro, but also Greek wines and Greek beers.

  • Greek Food and Drink

    Greek food and drink is a highlight of any visit and Greece Travel Secrets brings you info about food and drink from all over Greece, from Athens to Zakynthos.

  • Goules Taverna Crete

    The Goules Taverna in Goulediana, south of Rethymnon, has been called one of the best tavernas on Crete and Greece Travel Secrets recently visited them.

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    We visit and tour the Manousakis Winery on Crete with a wine-tasting and a chance to buy their tsikoudia, sea salt, olive oil and other goodies.

  • The Herb Man of Kouses

    Greece Travel Secrets visits the Cretan Botano herbs and spices shop near Matala in southern Crete in search of the herb man of Kouses.

  • Art Courses on Crete

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  • Making Rakomelo on Crete

    Greece Travel Secrets visits Crete and learns about making rakomelo from Jorgos Kourmoulis in Agouseliana.

  • What Is Greek Raki?

    Raki is an alcoholic drink made with distilled grapes and anise, and popular in Greece and other Mediterranean countries, including Greece’s neighbour Turkey.

  • Chania, in Western Crete

    Chania is the main city in Western Crete with a lovely setting and a beautiful harbour as well as several museums.

  • Tipping in Greece

    The Greece Travel Secrets guide to tipping in Greece from two Greece travel experts, including when to tip, what to tip and when not to tip.

  • Crete

    Crete (Kriti) is the largest Greek island and its main attractions include the Minoan Palace of Knossos, the Samarian Gorge, Chania and Rethymnon.

  • Crete Olive Oil Tour

    For a Crete olive oil tour Greece Travel Secrets visits Biolea, one of the few olive oil factories on Crete that you can visit.

  • Crete Festivals and Events

    Crete festivals and events include Carnival Easter, Whitsun, Christmas, many other religious feast days and public holidays.

  • Cretan Writers and Artists

    The most famous Cretan writers and artists include the painter El Greco and the author of Zorba the Greek, Nikos Kazantzakis.

  • Corfu Olives

    Corfu olives are an important part of this Greek island's economy, with an estimated 3-4 million trees producing olive oil of exceptional quality.

  • Corfu Food and Drink

    Information for travelers on Corfu Food and Drink including restaurants and tavernas, Corfiot specialties, desserts, wine and other Greek drinks like ouzo.

  • Corfu Beer Festival

    The First Corfu Beer Festival took place in Arillas in North West Corfu and celebrated the beer of Bavaria and of Corfu, in the Ionian islands of Greece.

  • Best Things to Do on Crete

    The best things to do on Crete and top things to see include the Samaria Gorge, the Minoan Palaces at Knossos and Phaistos, the towns of Chania and Rethymnon.

  • Best Crete Hotels

    The best Crete hotels include 5-star luxury hotels, historic and romantic Venetian palaces, and several hotels in Hania and Iraklion.

  • Best Cocktail Bars in Athens

    Two of the best cocktail bars in Athens, MoMix Kerameikos and The Clumsies, are making creative cocktails using that most Greek of Greek spirits, Metaxa.

  • Best Beaches on Crete

    Greece Travel Secrets chooses ten of the best beaches on Crete including the beautiful beaches at Vai and Elafonisi.

  • Battle of Crete

    The Battle of Crete during World War 2 inspired several books and took place with an airborne invasion over Maleme on the north coast of the island.

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